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Green River - Dry As a Bone & Rehab Doll Music Album Reviews

 Now reissued in expanded editions, the first official Sub Pop release—and its full-length follow-up—deserve more than historical footnote status.

Green River are known best for having broken up. Any retelling of the history of the Seattle music boom in the 1990s worth its wack slacks will explain how the 1988 demise of Green River begat Mudhoney and Mother Love Bone, which begat Pearl Jam, which ultimately begat platinum records and global pandemonium and the upending of underground culture. But before all that begatting, there were some records; after 30-plus years of exhaustive hindsight and recontextualization, Green River’s songs have aged better than many of their better-known contemporaries. Taken as a whole, they remind us that history is not always as neat as the way we remember it.

The band’s second EP, 1986’s Dry As a Bone, is the faster, scrappier, punkier, and more lo-fi one. While Green River’s 1988 full-length debut and swan song, Rehab Doll, isn’t exactly polished, it has the distinctly late-1980s big-drums feel of something someone tried to polish before the band imploded—at least in part over disagreements about how much it should be polished. Still, the two records bear more similarities than differences, an implicit point of Sub Pop’s expanded reissues of both. Four songs (“One More Stitch,” “Hangin’ Tree,” “Together We’ll Never,” “10000 Things”) appear on both editions in multiple forms and in varying degrees of shagginess. This isn’t a novel concept—Sub Pop reissued the records as a single title in 1990. Together, Dry As a Bone and Rehab Doll deserve a richer legacy than that of a walking prologue.

At all of five songs in its original incarnation (and bulked up to 16 here), Dry As a Bone will mainly be immortalized for being the first proper release on Sub Pop, albeit about a year after the EP was finished. Recorded by producer Jack Endino, whose imprimatur became nearly as integral to the scene’s mythology as flannel itself, it’s a mischievous, unassuming dogearring of the Stooges playbook—the embodiment of what the word “grunge” might sound like before it lost all meaning. These songs remain a natural showcase for Mark Arm’s inimitable yawp. Far from filler or mere fan service, the added tracks show a band clawing at its restraints as it learns how to play together in real time, particularly on “Hangin’ Tree,” “Bleeding Sheep,” and the six-and-a-half-minute “Bazaar.”

Rehab Doll was intended to be the great leap forward, but the band was finished before the album even came out. “Mark wanted to keep the band more down to earth, and the other guys wanted it to become something bigger,” drummer Alex Vincent told author Mark Yarm (no relation) for the definitive Seattle rock oral history, Everybody Loves Our Town. The reissue stands, then, as a fascinating document of an impassable crossroads. After initially recording with Endino, the band instead hired producer Bruce Calder to smooth the edges. Most of the songs are included in both forms here, and toggling between the two amounts to a clinic in what gets lost—and more crucially, what doesn’t. Though not intentional, the original album feels cast as the villain, an outmoded example of slickness or careerism versus the Important Authenticity of the Endino recordings.

But to believe that is to buy into the idea that ’80s metal in all its grandeur and thwomp was inherently bad (it was not) or that Duff McKagan wasn’t in the Fastbacks (he was). This David-versus-Goliath conflict has always been at the core of the Seattle story, but Rehab Doll reminds us that the truth was messy; before these bands were saddled with carrying the torch for authenticity, they made big, dumb, fun rock. The things that work best about the songs work in either iteration—a hook is a hook. The riffs that guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament helped write later may be more famous, but few do their job better than the ones driving “Hangin’ Tree” or Dry As a Bone’s frantic opener, “This Town.”

The combination of humor and gloom helped set the scene’s mood as much as any Big Muffed guitar sound. There is an earworm catchiness to even the most nihilistic romps, like “Smilin’ and Dyin’” (“Misery loves company, baby/That’s why I love you”) and, most indelibly, Arm’s defiant refrain during Rehab Doll’s “Swallow My Pride.” “This ain’t the summer of love!” he wails, presaging the wagon-circling to come as bands and labels and media outlets would very soon saturate the city, thinking it some sort of countercultural utopia.

Little else ages the songs. The distinct whelp of Arm’s vocals sounds just like it does on the Mudhoney album that came out last year. Untethered from their historical baggage and period-specific sheen, these Green River songs just feel like good, loud, heavy, snotty rock tunes, the way grunge intended.

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